Properly evaluating position battles is impossible during a team’s spring offseason workouts, considering that drills are strictly no-contact and their purpose is more on teaching than actual competition. That being said, some early signs of development can still be seen at this stage in the process, especially when it comes to the question about which roster battles might develop now and be worth watching over the summer.
One of the most intriguing might very well be the one between punters Ryan Allen and Jake Bailey. Allen, of course, is the incumbent: the veteran won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and had a marvelous performance in last season’s title game, before being re-signed during this year’s free agency on a one-year contract. Bailey, meanwhile, was added in the fifth round of this year’s draft and is a cheaper, high-upside option also capable of handling kickoff duties.
Both men will enter the ring, only one of them will emerge victoriously.
Two practices into mandatory minicamp, Allen and Bailey have both staked their claims to the title of ‘2019 Patriots punter’ — and both have made valid arguments why they should earn it. When it came to keeping the punts in the air for the longest possible time, for example, the rookie appears to have the upper hand. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Bailey averaged a better hang-time than the veteran Allen:
Bailey having a powerful leg — three of his punts on Wednesday hang in the air for more than five seconds — is nothing new, but rather a continuation of his college career at Stanford. Allen, meanwhile, was never been the strongest kicker of the football. However, the former undrafted free agency was always fairly productive in other areas: consistency, directional punting, and ball placement.
While Bailey looked solid when it came to the angle and spin of his kicks, his consistency still needs to improve as he has one touchback and a fumbled snap on his minicamp résumé so far, all while his hang-times have a wider range than Allen’s. The veteran’s numbers and general performance won’t wow anybody, but he is as steady as they come: you more or less know what you are going to get with Allen at punter.
So where does this leave the competition between the two? So far, Bailey seems to be ahead based on the strength of his leg. But needless to say that the competition will be one of the most intriguing to watch over the course of training camp and the preseason, and as a) Bailey gets more experience at the next level, b) live tackling gets introduced to the special teams drills, and c) holding on field goals and extra points gets introduced.
For head coach Bill Belichick, it all comes down to one thing: situational punting. “There’s a lot of different punting situations, so there’s situational punting and just being able to put hang time and distance on the ball to help our field position and change field position. But based on the rush, the expected return, field position and so forth, there’s a lot of different things,” he told reporters after Wednesday’s practice session.
“It’s a bit like golf: you stand on the driving range, but you’ve got to hit a lot of other shots too. So it’s all part of it,” Belichick continued before getting into the details of the spin on the ball: “It depends on the type of punt that we’re trying to hit. Those are punts where you’re probably not looking for maximum distance, maybe you’re looking for something else — placement or hang time or that type of thing.”
Based on Belichick’s comments and the practice sessions we have seen so far, we can only tell one thing for sure heading into summer: the battle of the punters will be an intense one, with both players still having equal chances of emerging victoriously.